By the age of seven, the life chances of children from disadvantaged homes in England have largely been determined, a new Save the Children report has found.
Just one in six children from low-income families, who have fallen behind at age seven, will catch up by the time they are 16, compared to one in four struggling children from wealthier households.
The statistics illustrate the lack of progress made in improving social mobility,the charity has claimed.
“Children are more likely to fall behind if they are from a low-income household and if they do fall behind they are less likely to catch up," Will Caxton, head of education at Save the Children, said.
"There has been progress but it is short of where we need to be in terms of giving kids a fair chance. We need bolder policy options to be discussed.”
Last week, the Department for Education announced that the number of pupils able to read at expected levels by age seven had risen to 89 per cent. This breaks down as 79 per cent of pupils on free school meals achieved the standard compared to 91 per cent of pupils not on free school meals.
The gap is narrower than in 2009, but the Save the Children report Too Young to Fail points out that continuing with the current rate of progress would leave 480,000 pupils – including 180,000 from low-income families – behind in reading by 2020.
The charity has launched a nationwide campaign, Born to Read, in partnership with Beanstalk, formerly Volunteer Reading Help, to recruit 7,000 volunteers over four years to help 23,000 children learn to read.
It has also called on the government to focus on the first years of primary education by introducing a £1,000 ‘fair chances’ premium for infants who are falling behind and boosting the existing pupil premium to more than £3,000 per pupil.
As part of its work on the subject of poverty and school achievement, Save the Children polled 2,000 parents about the effect of the recession on their children’s education, finding that a quarter have less money than they did five years ago and cannot afford to pay for school trips and other activities.
The charity's chief executive Justin Forsyth, said: “Many children starting school this term already have the odds stacked against them.
"These children of the recession, born during the global financial crisis into a world of slow growth, stagnant wages and increasing living costs, where communities are feeling the effects of austerity, need our help more than ever.
"The cost of failing is a young child without a fair chance in life however hard they try.”